Maria Santos smiled and greeted the small crowd of immigrants who had gathered at the door of the Adventist church. She unlocked the door and invited those who were waiting to come inside. Maria hurried upstairs to unlock the rooms that serve as the church’s community services center.
A van stopped outside, and two men unloaded bread and fresh vegetables from a food bank and grocery store. The men carried the food upstairs, where two women sorted it out.
The community services center of the church is crowded into two small rooms and a hallway on the second floor of the church. Shelves line one room, sagging under the weight of canned fruits and vegetables, pasta, and dried milk. Two freezers hold frozen goods, and a refrigerator is loaded to capacity with yogurt from a local food chain. Hanging from rods near the high ceiling are rows of coats, sweaters, and other warm clothes. Winter is coming. In the nearby hallway, perishable foods fill the tables. These must be distributed today, or they will spoil before they can be used.
A woman slowly climbs the steps. Her arthritic joints can’t move fast. She smiles at the receptionist, who invites her to sit down and chat while Maria fills her bags. “How is your grandson,” the receptionist asks, “and your husband?”
“Little Tony is well,” the woman says. “But my husband—the cold weather bothers him. Could I get him a sweater?” she asks, eyeing the clothes in the next room. The women choose a sweater that will fit her husband. Then someone helps her downstairs, where she will wait until the van returns and the driver can take her and her food home. Three bags of groceries are heavy, and she has more than a mile to walk.
A man arrives, speaking in low, shy tones. He isn’t used to coming to the center for food, but his wife is ill, and they are hungry. The women quickly pack several bags of foods for him. They eye his thin jacket and ask if he needs a sweater or a coat. “I have no coat,” he says, embarrassed. They help him select a warm used coat, which he slips on before he leaves. He thanks the women gratefully and starts down the stairs.
The line grows and shrinks as the hours pass. Before the center closes for the day, they will have helped dozens of families, mostly immigrants, survive another week.
Ana’s husband has a job, but his wages are too low to provide for the family of four. They were forced to move in with Ana’s grandmother in a one-bedroom home. They come for food to help make ends meet. Maria makes sure that every bag contains a book or a magazine that will encourage the family to trust God. Ana appreciates the spiritual food as well as the physical food.
Gertrude is an older woman, a widow, who lives in a small house near the church. Her pension doesn’t cover her monthly needs. When Gertrude came to the church for help, the women chatted. Over time they became friends. “We often talk about God,” Maria says. The pastor met Gertrude and visited her home. He offered to study the Bible with her, and Gertrude agreed. She enjoyed the Bible studies and began attending church. Gertrude has been baptized and rejoices in her new family in Christ.
Maria doesn’t work alone. Several church members help, including some who are not Adventists. They believe in what the church is doing. One woman began coming to church after helping out for months. Another has attended a cooking course.
And when the center is open, the pastor is usually there, talking to people and offering encouragement and spiritual help.
“So many come to the center for food. But they need spiritual food as well,” Maria says. She and her team work hard to meet both their physical and spiritual needs. “This is God’s work. We need more room so that we can help more people. We’re praying to open a new community center near here so that we can do more for the people in the communities we serve.” Maria selects some literature and a children’s book to add to one woman’s bags. “I remember that Jesus said, ‘I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.’ ”
Part of this quarter’s Thirteenth Sabbath Offering will help build a larger, more efficient community center and church in this immigrant community just outside Lisbon, Portugal. Thank you for helping the church in this community be God’s hands and heart to the people they serve.